Do Ebook Readers Read More Books?

There’s a persistent nugget of common sense that keeps floating around the web indicating that people who read ebooks read more books than those who read paper books.  It’s reared its adorable little head again on the WSJ this week, and I think it’s worth analysing it a bit deeper. Snip:

A study of 1,200 e-reader owners by Marketing and Research Resources Inc. found that 40% said they now read more than they did with print books. Of those surveyed, 58% said they read about the same as before while 2% said they read less than before. And 55% of the respondents in the May study, paid for by e-reader maker Sony Corp., thought they’d use the device to read even more books in the future.

You can see why people want it to be true (people other than Sony, that is). Ebooks are a bit of a boogeyman for publishers and booksellers – some of them like to pretend that ebooks spell (variously) the end of the book, the end of reading and the end of the bookstore. However, if it turns out that ebook readers read more books than paper book readers (and more importantly, buy more ebooks than paper book readers) then the amount of money that books make for everyone will increase, which will reverse a worrying downward trend in both reading and book buying over the past decade.

But the questions is – is it true? It’s obviously a very difficult thing to prove at this point. As the WSJ points out itself, it’s a bit too early to tell if the increase in reading will continue after the lure of the new gadgetry wears off. Nonetheless, let us indulge ourselves in some idle speculation.

It’s true that the early adopters of ereaders are likely to be both gadget-fiends and fairly big readers already. However, it’s very likely that the penetration of ereaders and ebooks into the ordinary book buying public will occur for a few key reasons, each of which, I believe, is directly related to why ebook readers read more books than paper book readers.

Firstly, there’s what’s called interstitial, or cereal-box reading. That is, ereaders and ebook technology lends itself towards the type of reading you do from the back of a cereal box while scoffing down your breakfast. And, let’s face it, the average person spends three years of their life on the toilet – what better time to finally finish Ulysses? (Especially if it’s already sitting on the iPhone you have in your pocket).

There’s also the ease of purchase. Despite the teething problems readers are experiencing at the moment in regards to book availability, pricing and territorial copyright, the digitisation of other industries has proven that these things eventually settle down. Not only are we already in a position to quite easily read The Passage while lining up in the pub or waiting for a YouTube video to load (two of the most distasteful waiting times in a modern human’s life), we can also buy, download and begin reading Mockingjay when we finish it without leaving our spot.

Tied in to the ease of purchase, of course, is the availability. How often have you gone into a bookshop looking for a book and left without it because it wasn’t in stock? How often do you end up tracking that book down elsewhere? If you’re lazy like me – almost never. When the ebook teething problems are sorted out, that will be a problem of the past.

So, to sum up: when it’s easier, faster and cheaper to get books, and you convert more interstitial time into time to read books – you will probably read and buy more books, irrespective of whether you’re a gadget freak or a book lover. What do you think? Are you convinced by my tenuous argument, or do you think the ebook is the end of civilisation? Sound off in the comments.

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Joel Naoum

Joel Naoum is a Sydney-based book editor, publisher, blogger and writer. He is passionate about the possibilities of social media and digital publishing opens up for authors, publishers, booksellers and the whole book industry.

22 thoughts on “Do Ebook Readers Read More Books?”

  1. Actually, yeah, you have convinced me. You only need to look at how much more music I buy because of the accessability of iTunes store. Whereas I used to occassionally buy a CD if I was in the vicinity of a shop… such as waiting for the doctor’s etc, I now buy music every paycheck because it’s a click away. Or when I’m drunk and am convinced everybody needs to hear that one song that I remember from the past. You know the one.
    When it comes to books, I’m a manic user. I stock up in big bursts, and if I don’t have a reading pile, i’ll buy a book every couple of days. If I have the ability to get ANY book at any time… i’ll certainly buy more books. Not sure if it’s possible for me to READ more books, but i’ll probably do less re-reading of old favourites, which is what I do when I am short on money/can’t be arsed going to a bookshop.
    This is how it starts. DAMN YOU SKYNET!

    1. I find I have the same reaction when buying electronic books now. If I read about a book in the paper or on a blog, I’m far more likely to instantly go and buy it now just in case I have time to read it. I think I do read more than I used to, but that’s a peril of the job as well, so it’s hard to tell.

  2. Actually, yeah, you have convinced me. You only need to look at how much more music I buy because of the accessability of iTunes store. Whereas I used to occassionally buy a CD if I was in the vicinity of a shop… such as waiting for the doctor’s etc, I now buy music every paycheck because it’s a click away. Or when I’m drunk and am convinced everybody needs to hear that one song that I remember from the past. You know the one.
    When it comes to books, I’m a manic user. I stock up in big bursts, and if I don’t have a reading pile, i’ll buy a book every couple of days. If I have the ability to get ANY book at any time… i’ll certainly buy more books. Not sure if it’s possible for me to READ more books, but i’ll probably do less re-reading of old favourites, which is what I do when I am short on money/can’t be arsed going to a bookshop.
    This is how it starts. DAMN YOU SKYNET!

    1. I find I have the same reaction when buying electronic books now. If I read about a book in the paper or on a blog, I’m far more likely to instantly go and buy it now just in case I have time to read it. I think I do read more than I used to, but that’s a peril of the job as well, so it’s hard to tell.

  3. Hmm, I don’t know. I was reading this piece, and you reminded me about a conversation I had about Mockingjay on the weekend (and the fact that I hadn’t read any of them) so I went to Kindle, ready to download… then decided that if they’re as good as people say, maybe I should buy the print copies instead. So I went online, bought all 3, and they’re a couple of days away. I guess my decision there was that if I want to lend it out to someone, I can do it very easily with the actual book… I guess I just find that I like to read ms online, iPad, iPhone, PC, whatever, but when I want something ‘for good’ I’ll buy the print version.

    1. That’s true. I don’t do the same, but I have an odd relationship with the physical book, as most of my paper books were accrued through my teenage years and I switched to ebooks when I travelled overseas in my early twenties, and never really went back. I never had the collecting bug for paper books (although I love other people’s massive collections). I suspect this is going to be the case for much younger generations, who haven’t already accrued a collection of paper books that they feel the need to maintain and add to. It’s similar with music – I know a lot of people who brag about how many gigabytes of music they have now instead of the amount of CDs. We are in an in-between generation, though, so I think we’re likely to see bits of both types of behaviour.

  4. Hmm, I don’t know. I was reading this piece, and you reminded me about a conversation I had about Mockingjay on the weekend (and the fact that I hadn’t read any of them) so I went to Kindle, ready to download… then decided that if they’re as good as people say, maybe I should buy the print copies instead. So I went online, bought all 3, and they’re a couple of days away. I guess my decision there was that if I want to lend it out to someone, I can do it very easily with the actual book… I guess I just find that I like to read ms online, iPad, iPhone, PC, whatever, but when I want something ‘for good’ I’ll buy the print version.

    1. That’s true. I don’t do the same, but I have an odd relationship with the physical book, as most of my paper books were accrued through my teenage years and I switched to ebooks when I travelled overseas in my early twenties, and never really went back. I never had the collecting bug for paper books (although I love other people’s massive collections). I suspect this is going to be the case for much younger generations, who haven’t already accrued a collection of paper books that they feel the need to maintain and add to. It’s similar with music – I know a lot of people who brag about how many gigabytes of music they have now instead of the amount of CDs. We are in an in-between generation, though, so I think we’re likely to see bits of both types of behaviour.

  5. I started reading my first book on an iPad this weekend, and am completely convinced that this argument is correct. I thought it would be more like the less-than-ideal experience of reading from a computer screen, but I actually found it preferable to reading a paper-and-ink book. Completely converted. Down with paper books. Er, except for everyone else, because that would put me out of a job.

  6. I started reading my first book on an iPad this weekend, and am completely convinced that this argument is correct. I thought it would be more like the less-than-ideal experience of reading from a computer screen, but I actually found it preferable to reading a paper-and-ink book. Completely converted. Down with paper books. Er, except for everyone else, because that would put me out of a job.

  7. Perhaps one might buy more ebooks, but according to a study mentioned in the latest Australian Author mag, they’ll read them more slowly. “Nielson Norman Group discovered that reading speeds declined by 6.2 percent on the iPad and 10.7 percent on the Kindle compared to print’. Maybe you’ll need the time saved tracking down and buying books to actually get through them?

  8. Perhaps one might buy more ebooks, but according to a study mentioned in the latest Australian Author mag, they’ll read them more slowly. “Nielson Norman Group discovered that reading speeds declined by 6.2 percent on the iPad and 10.7 percent on the Kindle compared to print’. Maybe you’ll need the time saved tracking down and buying books to actually get through them?

  9. I saw that study (and even used it myself in this post – , but I’m dubious. The original study (linked to in my post) used only 24 readers – so it’s a very small sample group. They also point out that the margin of error would be fairly high, so I think the real percentage is probably a lot lower. Having said that, I do think reading on a Kindle or iPad is slower than a book – but that’s probably got as much to do with readers getting used to the new gadget than it is to do with some inherent speed disability.

  10. I saw that study (and even used it myself in this post – , but I’m dubious. The original study (linked to in my post) used only 24 readers – so it’s a very small sample group. They also point out that the margin of error would be fairly high, so I think the real percentage is probably a lot lower. Having said that, I do think reading on a Kindle or iPad is slower than a book – but that’s probably got as much to do with readers getting used to the new gadget than it is to do with some inherent speed disability.

  11. My fiance bought me an Ebook Reader for Valentine’s Day this year, and I have literally devoured books since. I’ve read up to ten books a month, but not less than six. I’ve had a list of books I’ve wanted to read forever, and added to it monthly. Before the e-reader, there were 600 on the list. I’ve ticked off 45 books.

    My apartment is also tiny, and there’s no room for books. However, once I pick move into a house, I’ll have a library. I think I’ll house all of my favourite books there.

  12. My fiance bought me an Ebook Reader for Valentine’s Day this year, and I have literally devoured books since. I’ve read up to ten books a month, but not less than six. I’ve had a list of books I’ve wanted to read forever, and added to it monthly. Before the e-reader, there were 600 on the list. I’ve ticked off 45 books.

    My apartment is also tiny, and there’s no room for books. However, once I pick move into a house, I’ll have a library. I think I’ll house all of my favourite books there.

  13. You’re absolutely spot-on, according to this guy: http://gigaom.com/2010/08/26/why-e-readers-are-good-for-books-people-read-more/.
    I thought this was a particularly interesting point:
    “36 percent of the books read by people with e-readers were what it called “incremental consumption.” In other words, e-reader owners were reading new books, rather than books that the owner would otherwise have read in print.”
    For myself, I do find that I read more slowly on my Sony device but the convenience of having all my manuscripts to hand means it’s totally worth it. And I am getting faster the more I use it.

  14. You’re absolutely spot-on, according to this guy: http://gigaom.com/2010/08/26/why-e-readers-are-good-for-books-people-read-more/.
    I thought this was a particularly interesting point:
    “36 percent of the books read by people with e-readers were what it called “incremental consumption.” In other words, e-reader owners were reading new books, rather than books that the owner would otherwise have read in print.”
    For myself, I do find that I read more slowly on my Sony device but the convenience of having all my manuscripts to hand means it’s totally worth it. And I am getting faster the more I use it.

  15. The bit of this article that got to me was the section about increased accessibility. The thing is, I have my iPhone with me everywhere except when I’m sleeping (yes, we have a “no gadgets in the bedroom” rule). So when I am waiting in line, hanging out at school 10 mins early waiting for my kids, eating a meal alone (I know, shame !) etc, I would probably read an ebook instead of trawling my email, facebook and various other sites looking for something to entertain me. I could probably get through a few extra books a month that way. I did, for a long time, take a book with me everywhere I went, for this very reason. But lately I have been reading cumbersome books and its seemed tedious to do so. I’m not yet convinced about ebooks but I suspect I’m just not there yet. I wasn’t convinced about iTunes or digital photos either and I’m a convert now. Oh, but I will miss holding a book in my hands if I ever get converted …

  16. The bit of this article that got to me was the section about increased accessibility. The thing is, I have my iPhone with me everywhere except when I’m sleeping (yes, we have a “no gadgets in the bedroom” rule). So when I am waiting in line, hanging out at school 10 mins early waiting for my kids, eating a meal alone (I know, shame !) etc, I would probably read an ebook instead of trawling my email, facebook and various other sites looking for something to entertain me. I could probably get through a few extra books a month that way. I did, for a long time, take a book with me everywhere I went, for this very reason. But lately I have been reading cumbersome books and its seemed tedious to do so. I’m not yet convinced about ebooks but I suspect I’m just not there yet. I wasn’t convinced about iTunes or digital photos either and I’m a convert now. Oh, but I will miss holding a book in my hands if I ever get converted …

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